Case of the Month: An Engine Fire

Jul 1, 2013 by

The client’s Nissan Altima sustained an engine fire.   GEI was retained to determine the cause and origin of the fire.

Our expert researched the data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for recall issues that might be associated with this year, make, and model vehicle and found none.   He also reviewed a dealer invoice for recent work done to the vehicle.

The exterior of the vehicle was examined.

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Fire damage was found on the hood, left front fender, headlight assemblies, grille, and front bumper cover.  The exterior fire damage displayed a left front bias.

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The hood was opened to access the engine compartment.   The fire pattern to the engine compartment, again, indicated a strong left front bias, as the fire damage to the left side components was more severe than to the right side components.

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The fire damaged all of the rubber and plastic components in the engine compartment.   The fire nearly consumed the left side rubber and plastic components.   The right side rubber and plastic components were slightly fire damaged.

The engine compartment was then examined for the fire cause and origin.

No indications of fuel wash or fuel spray patterns were found at, or near, the fuel injectors.   The fuel lines and hoses were in place and intact prior to the fire.   The fuel injection system did not cause the fire.

The engine oil dipstick was removed for examination and the engine oil was found at its proper level.   The engine oil filter was found in place and properly tightened.

The power steering fluid level was low.   The lines, hoses, and supporting components of the power steering system were in place and intact prior to the fire.   The power steering system did not cause the fire.

The air-conditioning lines, hoses, and supporting components were in place and intact, prior to the fire.   The air conditioning system did not cause the fire.

The automatic transmission fluid dipstick was removed for examination.   The fluid level was also low.   The lines, hoses, and supporting components of the automatic transmission system were in place and intact prior to the fire.   The automatic transmission system did not cause the fire.

The engine compartment electrical system did not cause the fire.   The alternator was fire damaged but still turned.   No other short-circuits or issues were found in the engine compartment wiring harness.

The fire mostly consumed the battery and the heat of the fire melted the fuse box in the engine compartment.   The point of origin of the fire was located at the battery.

A Nissan dealer recently serviced the vehicle.  They determined that the battery failed and needed to be replaced, so they replaced it under warrantee.   During the replacement of the battery, the battery hold-down bracket was improperly secured.

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The right side battery hold-down “J” bolt was found in good condition.   However, the “J” bolt nut was missing.   This missing “J” bolt nut allowed the battery to move and slide until the battery hold-down bracket touched the positive battery terminal.   When the metal bracket contacted the positive battery terminal, a massive short-circuit occurred.  This melted the left side “J” bolt and in effect, welded it to the tray and bracket.

The short-circuit generated more than enough heat to melt and ignite the plastic and rubber components in the immediate area.

Had the right side battery hold-down “J” bolt been properly secured with a nut, the fire would not have occurred.

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost…”

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